Archive for the ‘ Linux ’ Category

Will Linux Survive on Netbooks?

Linux on netbooks.  What a concept!  Same great experience, but less filling.  Not!

What a difference a year makes.  After initial unbridled enthusiasm in 2008, Linux-based netbooks, MIDs and similar devices are taking a beating, delivered by, you guessed it — Microsoft. Consumers avoid Linux netbooks, manufacturers despair over immovable inventory – only free software enthusiasts seem ready to adopt these orphaned devices.
So why isn’t 2009 the “Year of Mobile Linux”? On paper, the case for deploying Linux on netbooks and MIDs looks compelling:

  • Lower Bill of Materials (B0M), both from shedding the “Windows Tax” and from more minimal provisioning of DRAM, HDD and client-based applications
  • More flexible system architecture – no lock-in to the “Wintel-PC virtual machine”
  • Customizable look-and-feel for OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) eager to distance their brand from Microsoft
  • Ability to leverage web apps (like Google’s) and emerging Cloud Computing resources

Marketplace reality quickly proved that the best-laid plans of OEMs and ISVs often go awry.  In the first half of 2008, OEM enthusiasm for Linux-based netbooks was so great that Windows (XP and CE) garnered only 10% of the pre-installed market.  By Q1 of 2009, Windows had come back with a vengeance, boasting 96% of netbooks shipping with Windows-family OSes (Source: NPD Group).
Linux Netbooks appear to be doomed to repeat the sad history of desktop Linux.  However “free” netbook Linux may be, consumers have not found it sufficiently compelling to leap across the historical functionality gap (perceived or real) from Windows.  Moreover, as netbook capabilities creep up on low-end notebook specs, consumers expect to be able to run familiar Office applications, and to browse, view and play web sites and multimedia content just as they do on Windows desktops.
Despite significant advances in content handling over earlier generations of desktop Linux, netbook end-users found Linux-based devices unwieldy and apparently unreliable. Not only did new device sales falter, but buyers returned the devices in droves.
Quite simply, the rationale for Linux-based netbooks proved irrational in the real world:

  • Leveraging Linux for a lighter BoM (Bill of Materials) proved less appealing when Microsoft cut XP licensing fees and ever-cheaper memory, storage and CPUs closed much of the notebook-netbook capability gap.
  • Netbooks with full PCI buses and other PC-like capabilities eased XP installation, especially for OEMs already familiar with notebook design, like Taiwanese ASUS and Acer.  Asian Tigers, while adopting Linux for more deployed embedded applications, are still more comfortable with Redmondware for mass-market consumer products.
  • Consumer reaction to first-generation netbook-centric look-and-feel proved unenthusiastic.  Ubuntu, while a great Linux desktop, failed to impress mass market users; Moblin 1.0 wasn’t ready for prime-time and Mobile 2.0 arriving in 2009, was too late.
  • Netbooks intended to leverage emerging Cloud Computing relied on the vagaries of end-user network and cloud access, sending consumers scurrying back to client-based productivity software on better-provisioned Windows-based devices.

The combination of these factors, when pushed through multi-tier consumer product sales channels, proved to be a retail nightmare and a dead end for Linux and Open Source.

Next week I’ll again pick up this topic, comparing how Linux the mobile Linux dynamic differs depending on whether you come “down from notebooks” or “up from mobile phones”.


Mobile Conference at OpenSource World 2009 – Call for Papers

Mobile Conference at OpenSource World™ 2009
Aug 10-13 San Francisco CA
Call for Papers Now Open – Mobile Platforms and Applications and More

OpenSource World Conference & Expo 2009 is the largest and most
comprehensive event for open source software and all things Linux. An
expansion of LinuxWorld Conference & Expo®, the conference presents the
latest Linux and open source ideas in a very technical context by
industry experts and innovators. OpenSource World focuses on real-world
solutions in real-world environments using open source, open standards
and open architecture as part of an integrated IT infrastructure.

The Mobile Conference at OpenSource World extends these themes into the
domain of mobile platforms and applications.  The Mobile Conference at
OpenSource World is divided into two tracks and welcomes submissions in
the following areas (and is open to your suggestions as well):


  • Android, LiMo, Maemo, Moblin, OpenMoko and other Linux-based open source mobile platforms
  • Open SymbianOS
  • Shared Source around WindowsMobile
  • Browsers and Browser-based platforms – Mozilla/Gecko, Webkit, Pre, etc.
  • Open Source Java platforms
  • Application Frameworks – GTK, Enlightenment, Qt, etc.
  • Emerging form factors – MIDs, voice-enabled nettops, etc.
  • State of key platforms technologies – power management,  multi-core support, virtualization, etc.
  • Building and sustaining communities around mobile platforms
  • Platform licensing choices and impact


  • Mobile application development tools and techniques
  • Comparing application frameworks and paradigms
  • End-to-end applications development and deployment
  • Enterprise mobile application development, rollout and management
  • State of OSS applications technologies – VoIP, multimedia, etc.
  • Content and content management with open source software
  • Mobile application delivery
  • Working with operators, application stores and other channels
  • Licensing of mobile applications and content

Submit your speaking proposal TODAY online

Deadline for submissions is February 20, 2009


Focus proposals to offer attendees information, tools and inspiration to
accomplish mobile open source.  Please DO NOT focus proposals on a
commercial product or propose a marketing pitch, but rather open source
software and technology.

We look forward to your participation in OpenSource World 2009!

The Mobile Conference at LinuxWorld Program Committee

  • Bill Weinberg,
  • Andreas Constantinou,
  • Rick Lehrbaum,

Intel and Taiwan Inc. Partner for OSS Research, WiMAX Rollout

Intel announced today that the sultan of silicon will partner with the Taiwanese government and invest in the Republic’s IT industry to launch a Software Development Center for Open Source mobile devices.  Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini indicated that the company had inked a formal agreement with the Taiwan Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA).  Together, Intel and ROC ministry staff will establish a lab for enabling Intel’s Linux-based Moblin platform, as well as other open source software, targeting devices built around the Intel Atom processor.  Simultaneously, the company’s venture arm, Intel Capital, will invest NT$386M (US$11.5M) in Taiwanese carrier VMAX to support deployment of Taiwan’s first mobile WiMax network during 1H/2009.

This move by Intel has something in it for for everyone:  it benefits Intel, helping to consolidate the position of newly-minted mobile/embedded Atom CPUs.  It helps Taiwanese OEMs, who quickly launched Atom-based devices (many based on WindowsXP), but who are scrambling for availability of richer (and cheaper) Linux-based software stacks with more extensive localization and local value-added through software.  It’s a good deal for Taiwanese consumer, who’ll enjoy high-bandwidth wireless access together with blazing data and streaming media.  And the goodness ripples out across the Taiwan Straights and the Pacific Ocean and behond, since Taiwan-based rollouts of new ideas and gadgets open markets for cost-down, high-volume versions of the same technologies and devices off the island and over the horizon.

This double-whammy announcement gives hope to fans of the MID and mutes its critics – Intel is serious about the MID as more than a collection of empty sockets to fill.  Industry analysts project Atom-based MIDs will climb to worldwide shipments of 86M+ units by 2013. Certainly more potential than the beleaguered Linux desktop, and interesting volumes in their own right, but still a mere ripple in the global mobile pond when compared with today’s billion-plus volumes for 2.5/3G handsets.

Endowing the nascent MID class with a gushing fat WiMAX pipe, combined with software interoperability with desktop and server Linux, opens this converged platform to dizzying new possibilities. Milliwatt-consumption Atoms loaded with with Linux-based Moblin, connected to the Cloud via high speed WiMAX add charm and substance to Intel’s vision for MIDs.  I like the idea of long-lived, well-provisioned, connected mobile devices with always on, always available multimedia and social networking.

Now if only my middle-aged fingers were dexterous enough to use their tiny keyboards and my aging eyes were up to reading MIDs’ high resolution displays . . . I’ll leave that part to Generation MID.

Conspicuous by its absence in the announcement is the subject of VOICE.  Intel positions MIDs precisely as “Mobile Internet Devices”.  However, the MID form factor overlaps the spec and size for many of today’s 2,5G
and 3G smartphones (e.g., from Taiwanese HTC who build WindowsMobile handsets, and starting in October, Google/Android G1 devices). Moreover, WiMAX is not merely a WiFi replacement, but rather a
longer-haul WAN technology.  WiMAX is a technology that forms the backbone of announced 4G rollouts by carriers like Sprint, ClearWire, Packet 1, UQ and other Intel partners. So, developing open source
software for WiMAX-enabled MIDs could very well support a revolution not just in data and multimedia, but in voice-based communications. OSS-powered MIDs and WiMAX could extend today’s operator-licensed
paradigms or re-invent person-to-person communication with point-to-point voice and video over WiMAX and also the establishment of non-traditional operator networks – MVNOs with enterprise, academic and
community backing.

Finland Needs Trolls

How Trolltech Complements Nokia Internal and External Technology

Upon reflection, gossip-mongering, and even more reflection, the Nokia acquisition of Trolltech begins to make more sense.

Look Beyond Maemo

Maemo, the applications platform that runs on Nokia 770/N800 and family, bases its Hildon UI framework on GTK. the main open source rival to Trolltech Qt. These web pads and the software that drives them are a market experiment for Nokia, albeit a strategic experiment. They’ve evidently had as much internal impact with the Finnish mobile giant as they have outside, in particular they’ve

  • engendered (additional) rivalry among Nokia divisions focused on Linux (web tablets, Nokia networks) and those who build SymbianOS and legacy-based phone-ware (S40, S60 et al)
  • heightened internal perceptions of platform fragmentation and given urgency to calls for cross-platform compatibility (which Qt offers, crossing over embedded and desktop OSes)
  • highlighted the need within Nokia for more ubiquitous FOSS and Linux competence

Motorola Impact

Did Nokia take out a key Motorola mobile supplier to stymie their mobile competitor? Probably not. Just like the folks in Redmond, Nokia spends its time worrying about Apple and Google. It’s hard to argue with that sensibility: Tampere is better served by looking ahead, worrying about threats to come instead of troubled competitors, over whom they leapfrogged long ago.

Nokia and Trolltech: Out loud and on the Qt

Bill Weinberg, — Reposted from

Today, Nokia announced its intention to acquire UI application framework provider Trolltech ASA . This move on Nokia’s part is touted as facilitating “application development for multiple platforms and devices”, and indeed one of Trolltech’s claims to fame is the cross platform agility of its Qt framework. I have already encountered waves of exuberance (rational and otherwise) about the virtues of this acquisition for Nokia, but little discussion of the trends and values underlying it.

Trolltech Background

Established in 1994, Trolltech built its fortunes on launching, supporting and commercializing the Qt graphical application framework. Qt exists as both a commercial offering and an open source project. To some degree, Trolltech pioneered the concept of dual licensing, by which two or more licenses apply to a single code base. In the Trolltech Qt case, the company offers a commercial license (with royalties) for deployment in commercial applications (desktop and embedded) and a FOSS license for development of and deployment in FOSS projects. Recently, Trolltech updated the FOSS license for Qt and for other code it licenses to employ GPLv3.

In 2006, Trolltech enjoyed a fairly succesful IPO (OSE TROLL), and today enjoys the position of the ISV with the greatest number of deploymenst on Linux-based mobile phones. Among their OEM customers are Motorola, NEC, Panasonic, Samsung and others, who ship upwards of three dozen handset models with Qt and the Qtopia application set. Indeed, one of the most successful Linux-based phones to date, the Motorola A1200 (MOTOMING) garnered an unprecedented 1% share of China’s entire mobile market.

Qt enjoys a large developer base and also a worldwide end-user
following around the K-Desktop (KDE) for Linux and other OSes. KDE
boasts an active community and is the default desktop for many Linux
distributions. Indeed, while recently best known for its embedded
wins, Trolltech reportedly garners the majority of its revenues from
desktop ISVs.

Trolltech Challenges

Rosy past does not always translate into lucrative present and future. While today, Qt and Qtopia represent the leader in mobile framework deployments (in a highly fragmented field), their position in embedded /mobile is less then 100% solid:

  • Motorola and other OEMs have stated publicly and privately that they intend to move away from Qt and Qtopia in the mid and even short term, designing with and deploying instead GTK+, the GIMP Took Kit (part of GNOME).
  • OEMs of all stripes, especially those is an Asia, are reportedly turning away from Qt and Qtopia to reduce the software burden on their bills-of-material. They justify the move not just on financial grounds, but claim that current level and quality of Trolltech support does not justify the additional development and deployment costs. The acquisition is likely to accelerate this trend.
  • Mobile stack providers ACCESS and Azingo , the OpenMoko project, and Nokia’s have also gone with GTK. Stack providers Fluffy Spider Technologies and Mizi Research do not use Qt, nor will Palm in its Linux-based phones. Among Linux-based stack providers, only a la Mobile continues to integrate and ship Qt and Qtopia.
  • Standards bodies, consortia and other .orgs, even those in which Trolltech participated, participates or plans to participate, have standardized on GTK rather than Qt. These bodies include LiMO, LiPS, and OSDL/Linux Foundation (Desktop Linux). Trolltech quite visibly exited the last two and recently made hay about joining LiMO at the beginning of this year. The newest addition to the Linux-based knitting circle, OHA/Android, eschews native frameworks entirely, basing its UI on the Dalvek Java dialect (and so not on Qt, either)
  • In 2006, Trolltech released the Greephone , a software and hardware-based mobile prototyping kit. While it received initially positive reviews, it never caught the imagination of the developer and OEM communities. While it boasted “real” phone h/w (instead of ATX or other evaluation board form factors), it offered too little to Tier I OEMs and was too closed to satisfy the yearnings of FOSS developers.
  • Free and Open Source ideologues have never liked Trolltech’s dual license strategy. While KDE (and to a lesser extent Qt itself) enjoy sizable and active development communities, many developers claim they resent having their work taken into Qt and commercialized without gains for themselves.

In light of these and other challenges facing Trolltech, the acquisition by Nokia represents a tidy and lucrative exit strategy.

Benefits for Nokia

In theory, Nokia receives a lot of value for its money and stock: mobile deployments, easy-to-use and ubiquitous Qt technology, and platform software that crosses desktop and mobile platform barriers. But key questions remain:

  • Nokia already invested heavily in Hildon (underlying Maemo), based on GTK, for its 770, N800 and other web tablets. While Trolltech has successfully demo’d Qt and Qtopia on Nokia hardware (as it did at LinuxWorld last year), it seems unlikely that Nokia would change over to Qt.
  • Even if Nokia were interested in Qt and Qtopia for their own sakes, why buy the Troll when you can get Troll tech on reasonable commercial terms?
  • Nokia already has its own smartphone OS and UI – SymbianOS. The company vocally positions SymbianOS as a hedge against Microsoft. Will a second mobile stack strengthen or prune that hedge?

Of course there are other factors to consider, outside of Nokia’s own OEM operations:

  • Motorola has been slow to act on its roadmap to move away from Qt to GTK. Even if Schaumburg negotiated a perpetual license with Trolltech, will Motorola want a key mobile technology to rest in the hands of its number one competitor?
  • The LiMO foundation, founded by Motorola, NTT, NEC, Panasonic, Samsung and Vodaphone, is aligned and allied to counter Nokia’s number one handset supplier status. With Trolltech just having joined LiMO, is Nokia also lining up to combat OHA/Android, or just coverings its bases?
  • Some speculate that Nokia will abolish the commercial branch of Qt, Qtopia and other Trolltech product lines. Would making Qt completely open and free also make it completely ubiquitous?
  • With Trolltech’s acquisition, there is one fewer free-standing open source company that is also public. Besides Red Hat, how many are there?